FRANKFORT – Citing advice from White House COVID-19 Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, Gov. Andy Beshear on Monday announced several new measures to try to fight the rising number of cases of the novel coronavirus in Kentucky.
“At a time when Kentucky is dealing with a surge in the coronavirus, knowing where other states have gone and knowing what it takes to stop it from happening here, let’s remember that we’re going to get through this, and we’re going to get through this together, but it’s going to require us to do what’s necessary,” Beshear said in a press briefing Monday afternoon. “Wherever you live in Kentucky, the virus is spreading. Our state government and the federal administration have significant agreement on what we need to do right now to make sure we don’t turn into Florida, Texas, Arizona, so many other states going through what could be absolutely devastating for them.”
Beshear announced the following steps:
• Bars will be closed for two weeks, effective today, Tuesday, July 28.
• Restaurants will be limited to 25% of pre-pandemic capacity indoors; outdoor accommodations remain limited only by the ability to provide proper social distancing, according to a news release.
• Public and private schools are being asked to avoid offering in-person instruction until the third week of August.
The Murray Independent School District and Calloway County Schools have both announced plans to begin classes on Monday, Aug. 24, which will be on the fourth week of the month. Students have been given the option of in-person instruction (with masks, social distancing and other requirements) or online instruction from home.
The entirety of Monday’s order from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services may be viewed at https://governor.ky.gov/attachments/20200728_CHFS-Order.pdf. The new restrictions were set to go into effect at midnight Tuesday.
Beshear said he and the Kentucky Department for Public Health will monitor COVID-19 case numbers over the next two weeks with the goal of reopening bars and restoring restaurant capacity after that time.
“Let me say, there are a lot of really responsible bar owners out there, and I hate requiring this for them,” Beshear said. “They are paying for the actions of others, and it’s not fair, but this virus isn’t fair either. On restaurants, again, they can do unlimited outdoor seating as long as they can sufficiently spread guests out under social distancing guidelines, and we are going to work with our cities and localities to do what we need to do administratively to allow that outside seating to expand. This is going to hurt a lot of restaurants. But the White House modeling shows that this is absolutely necessary to control the spread at this time when we either become the next Florida, or we get it under control and save the lives of our people and protect our economy.”
Beshear said Monday’s actions were conceived through and backed by guidance from the White House. He said the state is currently at a point seen in Florida and Arizona before both of those states saw their cases grow to a point that has threatened their health care infrastructure, which puts even more lives in danger.
“This is not outside of our control,” said Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health. “Our actions can have a positive impact. One point I want to emphasize is that it’s not politics if you have President Trump and Gov. Beshear making the same recommendations. It’s not politics. This is science. If we work together through this, we can succeed. Back when we were ‘Healthy at Home,’ we crushed the curve. … But when we started lifting restrictions, our mobility went right back to normal. So now, if you want to keep Kentucky open and keep your loved ones safe, wear a mask.”
Beshear said Birx, who is response coordinator for the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, joined him Sunday in Frankfort and advised that the growth in Kentucky’s COVID-19 cases – especially, the state’s rising test positivity rate – is “cause not just for concern, but for immediate action.” He said Birx specifically recommended that the Kentucky’s bars close and indoor dining capacity be limited.
“We are in an escalation of cases, where our positivity rate also continues to increase,” Beshear said. “This virus is now escalating and spreading so much statewide that statewide action is necessary. That’s the opinion of the Trump administration, and that’s the position of this state government. It’s every expert on the federal level and at our state level.”
Beshear said that even before Birx’s visit, he and his administration officials were making targeted moves to stop the spread of the virus in Kentucky. A news release from the Governor’s Office noted that last Monday, the administration issued a new travel advisory that recommends a 14-day self-quarantine for Kentuckians who travel to states and U.S. territories that are reporting a positive coronavirus testing rate equal to or greater than 15%. An updated list of areas meeting that threshold may be viewed at https://govstatus.egov.com/kycovid19. In addition, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services issued a new order pulling back the guidance on non-commercial gatherings to allow only for meet-ups of 10 or fewer people.
On Monday, Beshear stated his belief that the new recommendation for schools is the only path toward eventually getting back to in-person instruction.
“By waiting until the third week of August, we believe it gives us a chance to get this thing under better control, to get more people wearing that facial covering and to get us in a place where we can handle this in a much better way,” Beshear said. “My concern is if schools start before this, we’ll see cases in schools. And if we see a lot of early cases in schools, it will be harder to get all of our schools open for in-person classes in some way that works for those families.”
Monday case information
As of 4 p.m. Monday, Beshear said there were at least 27,601 coronavirus cases in Kentucky, 522 of which were newly reported Monday. Twenty-one of the newly reported cases were from children ages 5 and younger, including a 4-month-old from Jessamine County and a 9-month-old from Bullitt County.
Beshear also reported nine new deaths Monday, raising the statewide total to 709 deaths.
The deaths reported Monday include a 74-year-old woman from Bell County; four men, ages 70, 71, 82 and 98, and three women, ages 61, 76 and 84, from Jefferson County; and 61-year-old man from Livingston County.
“I don’t want to be a state where casket-makers are running out of their caskets, that they’re loaded into 18-wheelers to come to us,” Beshear said. “I don’t want to be a state that has to order one of these freezer trucks because their morgues run out of space. I don’t want to be a state that runs out of ICU beds and one of your loved ones doesn’t have space. I don’t want to be a state where a doctor has to look at 10 young people, knowing they have three ventilators, and possibly make a decision on who lives and who dies. By taking action right now, we can keep all of that from happening.”
As of Monday, there have been at least 588,926 coronavirus tests performed in Kentucky. The positivity rate currently stands at 5.58%. At least 7,466 Kentuckians have recovered from the virus.
Fiscal Year 2020 budget update
In what Beshear said was good news about fiscal year 2020, he announced Monday that the general fund revenues ended up $104.6 million above the budgeted estimate, at a total of nearly $12 billion. The general fund surplus will be $177.5 million.
“COVID-19 has upended all of our lives, and what it’s going to do to our budget next year, without federal assistance, will be devastating,” Beshear said. “We believe it could cause the single largest budget cuts in our state’s history, and we hope Congress will act. But what I can tell you is that this year’s budget has turned out to be one of the better budgets we’ve had here in a while in Kentucky. We did not end the year with a deficit; we ended up $177.5 million in the black. … I hope the people of Kentucky know how fiscally responsible this administration is committed to being, especially during this crisis.”
Previously, Beshear said the improved economic footing means no budget cuts to K-12 education, post-secondary education, and health and public safety; and no cuts to the judicial or legislative branch budgets.
Beshear also said an increase in lottery revenues would result in another $15 million for need-based student financial aid this coming school year.
After holding back $15 million for necessary government expenses, Beshear said the $162.5 million going to the rain day fun, which is called the Budget Reserve Trust Fund, will bring it up to $465.7 million, which is the largest deposit to the fund from a year-end surplus.
“This extra amount to the rainy day fund is good, because we’re going to need it,” Beshear said. “As good as this looks, next year looks just as bad.”
Beshear reiterated that the outlook for fiscal year 2021 remains challenging. He said that although the road fund revenue posted a shortfall of $60.3 million, no cuts were being made to the state construction program due to lower spending and help from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. As stated by a news release, he emphasized that “successfully fighting to stop the spread of COVID-19 remains the most important component to safeguarding our economy.”
Unemployment insurance claims update
Amy Cubbage, general counsel of the Labor Cabinet, provided an update Monday on the state’s efforts to address the unprecedented number of unemployment insurance claims brought on by the pandemic.
There currently are approximately 68,000 initial claims waiting for resolution, though some significant percentage of those are duplicates. This includes 4,900 claims filed in March, 22,000 filed in April and 20,000 filed in May.
Of the 68,000 initial claims, approximately 63,000 have been investigated and are awaiting a written Notice of Determination.
“When someone loses a job and files an unemployment claim, it could be disputed or undisputed, and a claim could be disputed for multiple reasons,” said Cubbage. “The undisputed claims are obviously the easy ones. We can process those quickly and get payments out. But if a claim is disputed, federal law requires the Office of Unemployment Insurance to issue a formal, written adjudication of the dispute. That is a federal rule. We can’t waive that.”
Responding to some reports that some seeking coronavirus testing still are being asked to provide a doctor’s order, administration officials reiterated that the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Department for Public Health (DPH) issued an order removing any such requirement to receive a COVID-19 test.
Kentuckians can sign up for molecular diagnostic testing at more than 200 locations throughout the state, listed by county at kycovid19.ky.gov.